Monday, November 28, 2011

Results are in: Justice and Development Party wins majority vote!

On our walk back from having dinner in the neighborhood of l’Océan to our apartment in Hassan, we immediately new there was big news flying through the air. Horns were honking, people were packed into cars and sticking their heads out of windows, flags were flying, and people were shouting and chanting slogans like, “Houria! Houria!” (Freedom! Freedom!). After quickly deducing that it couldn’t be anything soccer related since the game was still going on at the time, I knew it had to do with the parliamentary elections. The votes must have been tallied.

As we made our way towards the commotion, I could get a better look at the parade in front of us. Judging by the oil lamp symbol painted on their banners and used as decals on their white smocks, I knew that the moderate Islamist opposition party, the Justice and Development Party, must have won the majority vote in the election. The air felt like it was filled with static electricity, as their contagious enthusiasm made the hair stand up on my arms.

The results of these elections are especially important because they are the first parliamentary elections to take place since King Mohamed VI introduced constitutional reforms this summer. According to the newspaper Le Monde, the PJD won 107 of the 395 available seats in lower parliament.

Who exactly is the PJD? What does it stand for? What must be first understood is that it is a political group first and foremost that guides their political policies with a moderate interpretation Islamic principles. It puts economic and judicial questions at the forefront of its platform and supports a democratic political system. The PJD states that its political platform includes: educational reform, foreign economic partnership, encouragement of economic investment, maintaining a united Arab and Muslim global community, and the improvement of democracy and human rights in Morocco. Prior to the election, many Moroccans that I spoke with said that they had faith in the PJD because unlike other groups, when they are in a position of power, they successfully execute the tasks that they set out to do.

Taib Cherkaoui, the Moroccan Minister of Interior, announced that 45% of registered voters turned out for this election in comparison to only 37% at the election in 2007. Lahcen Daodi, the head of the PJD, called the results of this parliamentary election, “a historical turning point”. If this was a truly democratic election, then I look forward to see what happens in the months ahead. Will the PJD be able to satisfy the demands of the people?

Click here for Le Monde's slide show and narration (en français) of the PJD celebrating their win:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The November 25th Parliamentary Elections

13 million Moroccan citizens were called to ballot boxes today throughout the country to vote in elections that will determine a new parliamentary government, announced by King Mohamed VI in his speech on March 9th earlier this year. In accordance with the recent Constitutional reformation, the results of the November 25th election will determine the new Prime Minister based on which party obtains the majority vote.

In response to the wave of protests following the February 20th movement earlier this year, where an appointed commission was given until June to draft a proposal for a new constitution. On June 17th, a draft was released that proposed the following changes, which were later ratified into the constitution on July 1st: the King must name a Prime Minister from the majority party in Parliament and hand over a number of rights to the Prime Minister, including the power to dissolve Parliament; Parliament was given the ability to grant amnesty; and Berber/Tamazight became an official language of Morocco. Along with these changes and in reaction to increased pressure on the standing government to be more democratic and transparent, King Mohamed VI decided that instead of respecting the 5-year interval between Parliamentary elections, a Parliamentary vote would be held in November of the same year.

While in theory these elections mark another historical step towards a more democratic political system in Morocco, there are several factors, including low voter turnout, which suggest that what is intended by the government to be a major election won’t result in any significant change. The group of the February 20th Movement have been staging protests in the capital city of Rabat and posting videos and blog posts on their website Mamfakinch encouraging citizens to boycott the election because of voter fraud. The website Yabiladi, which is posting live updates of the election throughout the day, noted that at 1:45 this afternoon Mamfakinch had already reported several corruption cases on its website, including supporters of the Istiqlal Party bribing voters in the neighborhood of Sidi Abderrahmane in Rabat with money if they voted for their party. They also mentioned other similar instances of corruption from the PAM, RNI, and the PDD political parties in other quarters of the city. Cases of corruption are also prevalent in rural areas of the country where it is difficult for centralized rule to reach isolated communities. Many locals have no qualms with taking bribe money from political parties to cast a vote in their favor, since majority feel that the outcome of the election will have no effect on their daily lives. Along with the concern of corruption infiltrating the ballot boxes, voter registration is also contributing to a decreased voter turnout. Moroccans are registered to vote in the city where they are born, which can make voting a difficult task when the city where they grew up could be hours or even a full day of travel away from where they currently reside.

On white washed walls across the country, hand painted lines of boxes that resemble a week on a calendar have been filled in by different political parties with their respective symbols: the scale representing the Istiqlal (Independence) Party, the oil lamp for the Peace and Development Party (PJD), and the dove for the Peace Party, to name three. Though over 30 different parties are represented during this election cycle, many believe that after the results of the Tunisian elections and the general wave of Islamist policy in other Muslim countries such as Egypt and Turkey, it is the PJD who will come out on top. The PJD is the largest opposition political party in Morocco and promotes Islamism and Islamic democracy.

While there are undoubtedly many reasons that can attribute to voter anxiety towards this election, observations on the ground suggest that Moroccans are hopeful. According to YaBiladi’s live blog covering the election, the Minister of Interior announced at noon that there was 11.5% participation in Rabat, compared to the 10% noted by legislatives in the 2007 election. Supervisors of several voting booths throughout the capital also noted that a large influx of voters turned out after midday prayers, and are confident that the number of voters will intensify as the afternoon progresses, especially after 4 pm, when the work day is officially over.

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, there is a strong history of governmental corruption, which has set a precedent for current elections throughout the region. As a result, many voters feel apathetic and believe that voting is a waste of time and energy. When discussing the elections with Moroccans, a popular sentiment has been that the Parliamentary elections is a superficial gesture by the King to appease discontent with the lack of progress made since the February 20th movement earlier this year. Many Moroccans that I was able to speak with mentioned that they found the lack of demonstrations leading up to the election disconcerting. Should the relative ‘silence’ of the Moroccan people be a sign of political surrender, or of faith in political progress? Only time will tell.

Life in Rabat: A year and a half later

I thought that coming back here would be filled with familiarities. The smell of diesel engines, cigarettes, and the warm air of the dusty road jogged my memory within minutes of landing in Casablanca. Arriving in Rabat and wandering around the city a year and a half since being here as a study abroad student felt much different: the train station had been renovated into this glamorous building that is now the focal point of the city, the tramway that was under construction when I was last here is now up and running, the cars seem larger, and the city feels more cosmopolitan. Of course, these are all superficial developments. What truly matters is the people. I wondered if they had changed? In light of the February 20th Movement and more generally speaking the Arab Spring, had it altered the way people thought? Do Moroccans really think things have changed? Do they believe something profound is happening beneath their feet?

This summer I had the opportunity to take part in a paid research position at Amherst College where I researched the development of human rights policy in Morocco. I looked at the reformation of the Moudawana (family code) and the new Constitution in depth. While I wasn’t able to arrive at any conclusive argument as to whether reforming these two documents would actually improve Moroccan society, I did realize that there is one commonality between the opinions of majority of academics and the general Moroccan public: the problem of implementing and proliferating the content of these two documents throughout the country. While the urban upper and middle class (ie: educated, more liberal, etc.) is well aware of these changes and has no difficulty implementing them in their daily lives, the predominantly illiterate rural communities are unaware of them. Ironically, it is this demographic that all of these policy changes are allegedly targeting - greater women’s rights, educational reform, etc. And thus, the problem is circular: the privileged urban class is educated enough to understand what they deserve and therefore fight on behalf of all Moroccans while the underprivileged rural population who require these reforms the most lack the education to realize that they deserve more than what they are getting. In reality, nothing seems to change.

Coming back to Morocco "post-Arab Spring" has been a very interesting experience. I am trying to remain conscious of my unique position as a foreigner that has the ability to simultaneously view the developing sociopolitical situation from the point of view as an American female as well as a "local". So far, here are the two major positions that I have seen demonstrating in the last few months:
Mamfakinch is a predominantly youth-led website/forum that shares this outlook. Their name translates to, “we won’t stand for it” or “we’re not satisfied”. They argue that the efforts towards reform are anemic at best and they demand a greater overhaul of the Moroccan political system that welcomes democracy by giving more rights to the citizens and Parliament and fewer to the King.

On the other side of the coin are the Royalistes, which is a group that stands for just what its name suggests: power to the Monarchy. While the February 20th Movement and Mamfakinch are mostly youth and the disenchanted educated Moroccans who despite holding advanced degrees from highly esteemed universities are unable to find work, the Royalistes are primarily of the older generation who are employed by the state.

I apologize for the disjointedness of this post and hope that despite its inconclusiveness, it paints a picture of what is going on in my head so far.

Stay tuned.